Abe Asher/Portland Mercury
One of the biggest stories in Major League Soccer this season is not taking place on the field.

On the first of March, just ahead of the beginning of the 2019 season, MLS unveiled a new fan code of conduct — which, among other things, banned the use of "political" signage in stadiums around the league.

The ban specifically targets the antifascist, pro-human rights Iron Front logo, which had been a staple of Timbers Army displays since 2017 and was omnipresent in the North End at Providence Park last season.

In a letter to the 107 Independent Supporters' Trust (107ist) in May, the Timbers claimed that the symbol's presence inside the stadium drew "numerous complaints" from fans who identify it with the antifascist group Antifa.

But MLS and its clubs' position on the Iron Front logo is, both in theory and practice, a mess.

The concept of respect for fundamental human rights that fascism necessarily violates may be a contested political position — the president's former righthand man, after all, recently declared that he's "not really a human rights guy" — but to argue over whether it's political or not is to miss the point.

The point is that there is not and cannot be any legitimate debate over whether it is a moral position or not. Once you've taken a stand against a symbol that promotes human rights and antifascism, you're both in the wrong and sending an extremely dangerous message.

In any case, the idea that MLS now has an honest, uniform ban on politics in stadiums is farcical. The Iron Front logo is certainly no more political than MLS clubs wearing and selling stars-and-stripes or camouflage warmups, or, appropriately, allowing LGBTQ+ pride displays in stadiums.

In fact, the league has an entire advertisement campaign — Don't Cross the Line — that promotes its purported anti-racism and anti-homophobia. Banning the Iron Front, meanwhile, is a political decision as well.

The truth is that there is never an absence of politics. You either allow antifascist imagery or you don't, but either decision speaks volumes about the values and priorities of your organization.

It shouldn't be a difficult decision. The Iron Front logo has a long and storied history that began with opposition to the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany, and expresses support for the kinds of principles that every mainstream company or club must embrace, full stop: rights for all, oppression for none.

MLS in particular is an extremely diverse league with a diverse set of supporters, and it has a responsibility to those supporters with identities historically and presently targeted by fascists and their sympathizers to to affirm their right to come to games in peace and safety.

If certain other supporters are uncomfortable with antifascist displays in stadiums, they should take a hard look at where exactly their discomfort stems from or find somewhere else to spend their time.

This isn't an abstract issue. In practice, the league-wide crackdown on antifascist imagery has, unsurprisingly, emboldened the opponents of antifascism.

The buildup to the Timbers' home opener at Providence Park on June 1 was interrupted by two men waving a Donald Trump flag. Shortly thereafter, members of the Proud Boys made noise about attending Timbers matches.

Abe Asher/Portland Mercury
Last week, far right agitators harassed and scuffled with Seattle supporters before the Sounders' match against Sporting Kansas City. Across the country, in New York, white supremacists have routinely showed up in the supporters' section at Yankee Stadium.

While all of this has gone on, clubs around the league have made a point of confiscating signs with anti-racist, antifascist messages and ejecting fans who have displayed them from Vancouver to Seattle to Atlanta.

It's not good enough. Across the world, soccer has long struggled with white supremacist violence, homophobia, and racism in stadiums. Supporters and supporters groups who devote their time and energy to creating spaces in which those ideologies of hate are not welcome should be applauded.

Considering our current context, one in which the far right is ascendent at home and abroad, that work is all the more important.

That context has a sharp local edge as well. Portland is the whitest major city in the United States, a product of Oregon's foundational ban on black people and its racist housing policy that followed. It has long been a gathering spot for neo-Nazis and skinheads, like the the people who murdered Mulugeta Seraw, and has in the last several years been the site of numerous clashes instigated by alt right provocateurs.

Against that backdrop, the Timbers Army has, since its inception, stood strongly and proudly against fascism and racism and committed itself to the work of inclusion. Its response to the Iron Front ban has been extremely encouraging.

What started with the group distributing small Iron Front buttons ahead of the home opener and continued with their flying the Iron Front flag in Seattle hit a high point last week, as the organization coordinated with Seattle's Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC to issue a joint statement condemning MLS's decision.

Ahead of Saturday night's Cascadia Cup match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Timbers Army printed and sold t-shirts with the Iron Front logo on them and provided supplies for fans — including Vancouver's — to to stencil the symbol onto their own shirts.

The result was a supporters' section full of antifascist imagery and solidarity with supporters groups who have picked up the baton and displayed the Iron Front from Seattle to Vancouver, Atlanta to Los Angeles, from Dallas to Columbus to Minnesota, and beyond.

Some things are bigger than soccer. This is one of them.

The Timbers Army is a credit to itself, as is every other supporters' group who has stepped into the vacuum that MLS has so needlessly created to make it very clear that, no matter where the league stands, fascism will not be tolerated in our stadiums and beyond them.

The 107ist's demands are straightforward: that the ban on the Iron Front be lifted, that MLS remove the word "political" from its fan code of conduct, and that it work with experts to write a new fan code of conduct that supports the work of inclusion and anti-discrimination.

It's asking fans in support to step up the pressure on social media, contact ticket representatives and front offices, and to cease spending money in MLS stadiums until the league changes its approach.

I'm in. You should be too.

Abe Asher/Portland Mercury